Reframing Public Sector Work for Emerging Generations


An aging workforce

As our workforce ages, the public sector will be hit hardest by the shift in age demographics. Public sector agencies must use modern technology to attract and retain digital-savvy employees from younger generations. To illuminate the challenge, let’s look at the numbers comparatively from the private sector to the local government.

Private sector:

  • 28% of employees are at least 50 years old
  • 23% of employees are 30 years old or younger

Local government:

  • 37% of employees are at least 50 years old
  • 12% of employees are under 30 years old

Public sector employment has declined from 17.3% to 15.2% in the last decade. The nature of government work will inevitably transform in tandem with the changing public service workforce demographics. Public sector agencies must shift operational procedures and digitize and automate processes to help with the shift, a long-term journey toward digital transformation. Technology alone will not be enough to attract Millennials and Gen Zers toward government jobs,  government agencies must proactively take measures to highlight growth opportunities, align with the social issues of today, and invest in modern technology tools that are reflective of the tools these generations are familiar with.

Public sector jobs: Why the lack of interest from emerging generations?

Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) and Generation Z (those born from 1997 onwards) have vastly different expectations and preferences for workplace dynamics than older generations. Some expectations might be fueled by how the private sector, especially private tech companies, cater to younger generations. On the other hand, government jobs typically have rigid job descriptions, and compensations, and lack upward mobility opportunities. Some barriers of government work may include tedious paperwork, lock-step pay structure, and general workplace. This culture may deter younger generations from working for local or state government.

What can local and state governments do to address these complex issues?

Addressing some of these issues begins with reframing what it means to work for the government, and what values and missions are important to the organization. The public sector helps navigate societal issues, making for work that is meaningful and impactful. To attain talented staff, governments must frame these core missions in a way that is concrete and alluring. Millennials and Gen Zers look for stimulating and purpose-driven work more so than other generations.

Both these generations were raised with smartphones and social media, and are digital natives. To become attracted to public sector job descriptions, Millennials, and Gen Zers require systems and technologies that are familiar with intuitive interfaces. Blending end-to-end digitization and raising awareness about the growth opportunities provided in the public sector will also help attract younger generations.

The City of Houston, Texas provides a great example of how governments can foster younger employee interest in available jobs. The city established a “Grow Your Own Workforce” program to educate students on career paths available in the government. The ultimate goal is to use the Houston education system as a pipeline to fuel future government employment opportunities.

The program has four categories:

  • Business and Industry
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
  • Arts and Humanities
  • Public Service

Through this program, representatives from each of these categories expose students to the interesting projects involved in the categories. Consequently, open career paths in government are shown to students in a unique. Initiatives like this are essential for governments to create employment demand from Millennials and Gen Zers.

Just raising awareness is not enough, measures must be taken to shift workplace culture and mirror government jobs closer to those in the private sector. Governments can initially take two primary actions to cater to Millennials and Generation Z: create more purpose-driven work opportunities in local communities and provide the latest technology tools with access to learning resources.

Emerging generations care deeply about the challenges that face society. They have grown up with the internet and social media, where global and local challenges are presented front and center. Some issues include topics like:

  • Clean energy
  • Integrated mass transit systems and autonomous cars
  • Climate change
  • Preventative health care
  • Addressing mental illness
  • Sustainable agriculture and forestry
  • Secure elections
  • Cyber security for individual data

Local governments can transition their resources and messaging to address issues like this in their local communities. Communicating aligning values on these topics can give governments an advantage in attracting talent in younger generations.

Finally, Millennials and Gen Zers value and expect the following in the workplace:

  • Professional growth opportunities like mentorship
  • In-housing training
  • Access to resources that promote career development
  • Powerful, easy-to-access, and use technology in the workplace
  • Opportunities to work remotely

Governments must adapt to these generational changes in work preferences and implement technology tools that empower these generations to work proactively and efficiently. Technologies that support these generational work preferences include more cloud-based and mobile-friendly solutions that are remote-work friendly.

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